Desmond Randall knew one of his top guards wasn’t playing up to his potential, so the West Seneca West boys basketball coach gave Nate Ryniec a choice: play as hard as you can, or sit for the rest of the game.
Ryniec chose to play through the pain that has come with recovering from a sprained ankle, which has plagued him for the last six games. Yet once the Indians saw he was on a roll, they couldn’t feed the ball enough to the junior guard. Ryniec scored 17 points and hit three of his five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and Adrian Baugh scored 32 points in West's 67-58 win against Sweet Home in a Section VI Class A-1 semifinal Thursday at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
“He’s a tough kid,” Randall said of Ryniec, adding that Ryniec left immediately after the game Friday due to the death of his grandfather. “He’s probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest on the team and I challenged him in one of the timeouts.
“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘okay.’ And then he came out, and that’s when he went on that stretch.”
West, the defending Section VI champion, will face Williamsville East in the Class A-1 final at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State. Williamsville East defeated Niagara Wheatfield, 66-43, in the second semifinal.
The No. 7 Flames erased No. 6 Niagara Wheatfield’s three-point lead with less than three minutes left in the first quarter, then led by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter. Cal Shifflet scored 29 points for the Flames, who enter the Class A-1 final on a four-game winning streak.
“We’re peaking at the right time, and I think that’s good for us,” Shifflet said. “I think we have a good shot of winning it.
“We were running on them the whole game and they couldn’t stop us, running or rebounding, and we rebounded well, and we didn’t let their shooters get going."
Baugh hit his third 3-pointer late in the third to give the No. 5 Indians (12-11) a 44-43 lead, and after KiAiir Brunner gave Sweet Home a 46-44 lead less than a minute into the fourth, Ryniec hit three inside the seven-minute mark, which became part of an 11-2 run that gave West a 55-46 lead.
“That gave us a lot of energy,” Baugh said. “He hit three 3s in a row, so we were just trying to look for him, as much as we could.”
Then, the Indians kept No. 1 Sweet Home (13-9) in check on offense. The Panthers made just five shots from the floor in the fourth, and two of their top inside players, Jamel Lucas and Daequon Hill, fouled out with less than 2 1/2 minutes left in the game. Evan John led Sweet Home with 15 points and Brunner added 13.
“We almost got a deer-in-the-headlights look,” said Sweet Home coach Brandon Woods, whose team trailed 31-27 at halftime. “We got going, they got those 3s (by Ryniec) and that almost paralyzed us, for a minute. We were doing a good job of getting the ball inside in the third quarter. We were doing a very good job of attacking, attacking. Then we stopped, and it was almost like we pulled back.”
No. 6 Niagara Wheatfield (13-10) qualified for the Section VI Class A-1 semifinals at Buff State for the first time since 2005, but Williamsville East (11-12) took a 33-25 lead at halftime and led 35-28 midway through the third.
But at one point, the two teams combined for only one point in a stretch of more than four minutes – on Raejaun Smith’s free throw with 4:24 left in the third quarter, until Shifflet hit a 3-pointer with 2:28 left in the third.
Still, Williamsville East maintained at least a seven-point lead in the third, as the Flames and the Falcons combined for nine field goals, including only three by the Falcons in the quarter.
“They came out and made some big shots, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles, we couldn’t get any rhythm and flow on offense,” said Niagara Wheatfield coach Erik O’Bryan, whose team made only two shots in the fourth quarter. “We missed some layups, we cut it to seven, but the third quarter, our guys are arguing during a timeout and I said, ‘guys, it’s a 5-4 quarter and we’re winning. It should be an 11-4 quarter. And you gotta make those.’
“When you spot a team like we did, you can’t miss those chippies down there like that. And then the floodgates opened up.”